Abraham was not always a perfect husband. He was, at least twice, pretty despicable as far as husbandry is concerned. He gave his wife Sarah away in order to save his own skin, first to Pharaoh in Egypt and then to King Abimilech in Gerar. He also relented to his wife’s momentary faithlessness (shadows of Adam and Eve, perhaps?), submitting to her plan to have a son by his slave woman rather than wait on the birth of the promised son. By not putting the brakes on his wife’s plan, he harmed his family and at least two other lives. Then he even washed his hands of the slave woman who bore the resulting son once Sarah changed her mind in envy or anger.
But despite the sins of our flawed spiritual father, he was a man of great and Godly faith. And even though she committed her own transgressions, Sarah was a good match for him in that sense. The New Testament confirms Sarah as a faithful woman in instructing Christian women to “let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening” (1 Peter 3:4-6). Sarah hoped in God, she believed and trusted in her eternal city (Hebrews 11:11-16), and she submitted to her husband in Godliness.
At the beginning of Genesis 23, this woman of faith dies, and her husband of about a century is left to bury her in still-strange soil, far from the pagan place of their births. He probably mourned for a time right near her body (23:2), and he may have even buried her with his own hands.
I can’t imagine. I mean I really cannot even successfully recreate in my mind and my heart what it would be like to lose your companion of a hundred years (for perspective, a hundred years ago as I write this World War I was going on and the airplane was a 12-year-old invention). I have no idea what it would feel like to see such a relationship succumb to the curse of death after decades and decades marriage. And for Abraham and Sarah it was a marriage spent walking a strange land as Abraham spoke with God directly of His promises and His ways. God has made us so that when we marry we leave our former families and cling to our spouses, and when that relationship is ended by death it is heartbreaking. When it happens in a strange place where you’re wandering for God’s sake, it would have to be nearly devastating.
Abraham mourns for his wife at the beginning of Genesis 23. But then he rises and goes to the sons of Heth, the Hittites. These are the people of the land there at Hebron (not far from where Jerusalem would later be). He humbly asks some of them if he can purchase a tomb there to bury his dead wife, and the Hittites, believing (or at least saying that they believe) that Abraham is a prince of God, are happy to oblige.
Abraham does not haggle over the price of the tomb he asks to buy, nor the field that it is in. While we’re not given any of the state of his mind by Moses, the author of Genesis, it’s reasonable to assume this man who one chapter earlier faithfully took his boy to Moriah to sacrifice him by God’s command, this man who simply believed God would provide the ram once he arrived at Moriah, was trusting God here as well. No need to scheme, manipulate, maneuver. God had made the promise of a son and kept it. He had made the promise of home and was keeping it. Abraham didn’t have to manufacture a great business deal, here, in buying this tomb. God had blessed him with riches in Egypt (despite his sin), blessed him financially again in Gerar (despite his sin), and it would appear that God’s repeated provision and Abraham’s repeated faith had now left him in a position of humble, peaceful trust. He appears to be one who could mourn with hope, could grieve with belief.
And all of this was done in public. The Hittites saw him bury his wife this way. His son (we would have to assume) saw him mourn while behaving with humble honor. His household and slaves would have been witnesses to their master’s faith and his trust in the God of the Promise.
Abraham believed in the God of Jesus Christ. He had faith in the Gospel that was preached to him beforehand, as well as in the specific promises made to him there in Canaan. And that faith, that obedient belief in God, shaped his heart and life and circumstances in wonderful ways.
Abraham shows us it is possible to publicly bury your spouse in a manner that glorifies God. But only by faith. It’s possible to mourn and be a sojourner and suffer in such a way that God in Christ is made to look good, but only by belief and trust in His goodness and Gospel.
By faith we can live as the humble, hopeful, public people of King Jesus. By faith we can have good lives, good deaths, and eternal inheritances.